Review Uncle Ebo Whyte’s Blackmail: Nuanced exploration of marital infidelity

Playwright Uncle Ebo Whyte weaves emotions, love, infidelity and professional sloppiness into a tapestry in his debut play for 2017 – Blackmail.

The play title reminds me of my fondness with the word while at Korle Gonno 3 Junior High School at Mamprobi in Accra. I had wondered if there ever was any word as ‘whitemail’.

“Why blackmail and not whitemail?” I had asked myself for an answer I didn’t have then and don’t have now.

Uncle Ebo Whyte’s Blackmail might not hold the answer to my childhood question, but it does for couples who are in search for ways to stoke the love in their marriage.

Gifty showing the newspaper that carried her scandal with Rev Elisha’s secretary

The plot of the play is simple and digestible. No trace of convolution. It opens with the lead actor Reverend Elisha taking countless phone calls from his friends congratulating him on his elevation to a Bishop. He was due for consecration the next day. His secretary Aba who has no time for men, talks too much, so much that no one can match.

The audience was later to realise that lurking in the excitement of Elisha was a disdain for the wife, Gifty’s acting profession. A newspaper had carried a story about the wife claiming she has an extra-marital affair with a new church member, Rocky, whose bumpy marriage has ended.

Gifty walks into her husband’s office to share in the joy when Elisha without feigning stamped out the excitement. ‘You will not sit by me at the consecration,’ he said thrusting the paper to the wife. The transposition in the mood of the couple at this stage highlights the general themes of the play.

Reverend Elisha’s friend Pastor Tawiah left the U.S where his congregation is based to witness the consecration ceremony in Ghana. He hands out a cheque of $1,000 to Elisha as a seed his church was sowing in his ministry.  Tawiah’s presence lit the office as though he was a bearer of good tiding, but he wasn’t.

He blackmails Elisha to pay him $1,000 every month else he would make public a video about his sexual exploit with lady in the U.S. The charismatic Rev Elisha was soon to realise his friend is a con artist.

I’d wanted the play to continue after it ended, but I realised it wasn’t a play anymore. It was the reality being projected before the audience.

Marital infidelity is the number one cause of divorce across the world and Ghana is no exception. And as the play made no farce about it, the men are as guilty as the women they often accuse. Uncle Ebo Whyte preaches moderation in the handling of the many issues marriage throws to couples. ‘So you trust the newspaper more than me?’ Gifty asks Rev Elisha, but the answer comes later at the end of the play.

The gorgeous set design and subtle lightning envelop the audience making them feel as though they were inside Rev Elisha’s chapel.

However, Uncle Ebo Whyte failed to realise the potential of the dancers in the play. Theatre the world over thrives on good music, dance and a well-woven story. A play that sells is the one that has a well-balanced menu of the three. Uncle Ebo Whyte knows this and has often attempted to strike the balance but he didn’t succeed in this.

If you haven’t watch Blackmail, I’ll recommend you do so with your partner to learn some truths about marriage. The show continues on Saturday April 1 – 2.

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